Shania Twain’s big day, Pat Robertson’s surprise stand, and the next Siskel and Ebert

NewsmakersAll’s well that ends well
Shania Twain tied the knot on New Year’s Day in Rincon, Puerto Rico, with Frédéric Thiébaud, the ex-husband of her ex-best friend, who apparently was too friendly with her ex-husband, Mutt Lange. Twain was escorted down the aisle by her nine-year-old son, Eja. “I’m in love!” she wrote in her blog last month.

Drummers, they get no respect
It’s no surprise the birthplaces of the Beatles have a special place in their countrymen’s hearts. Oxford Street Maternity Hospital, where John Lennon was born, has been preserved and converted into apartments. Walton Hospital, Paul McCartney’s birthplace, has likewise been maintained and converted into luxury apartments. People still live in George Harrison’s birthplace, 12 Arnold Grove. Then there’s Ringo Starr, whose childhood home faces the wrecking ball. British Housing Minister Grant Shapps has urged Liverpool council to reconsider plans to raze the rundown row house at 9 Madryn Street, where the former Richard Starkey was born, as part of a redevelopment plan. Ringo has said the house should be “done up” rather than knocked down. The campaign is on behalf of fans, who contribute millions to the local economy, says the group Save Madrin Street. It’s not for Ringo, “who has enough homes of his own.”

Mom says the darnedest things
Acid-thumbed Canadian blogger Kelly Oxford has turned motherhood into a profitable enterprise. The ex-model’s caustic tweets on her three children and other hazards of sex have earned her a faithful following on Twitter. Now she’s sold a related sitcom pilot, Mother of All Something, to CBS, with actress Jessica Alba as executive producer. Here’s hoping CBS  doesn’t tone down her tweets. For instance: “Had my son’s hearing tested because he’s always yelling. Turns out he’s just an a–hole.” Or: “Getting into Christmas spirit by remembering how cool Joseph was about an invisible guy impregnating his lady Mary.”

NewsmakersThe simple but royal life
It’s no secret Queen Elizabeth II considers her days as a young bride to a dashing naval officer among her happiest periods, before duties of Crown and country took over. It seems Prince William and his fiancée, Kate Middleton, are striving for a similarly uncluttered life. The two do their own dressing, cooking and cleanup in the farm house they share in North Wales, not far from the Royal Air Force base where he’s stationed as a helicopter pilot. Nor are there plans to add servants after their April 29 wedding, says a Buckingham Palace source, though they already have a security detail underfoot.

NewsmakersIs Le Pen mightier than le Prés?
Marine Le Pen is set to take over the family business from her controversial father Jean-Marie Le Pen, leader of France’s far-right National Front party. Some commentators call her a threat to Nicolas Sarkozy if she challenges him for president in 2012. She’s as outspoken as dear old dad, warning France is threatened by creeping Islamization. She recently likened Muslims praying in the streets (because some mosques were full) to the Nazi occupation of France. “There are of course no tanks, there are no soldiers,” she added, “but it is nevertheless an occupation and it weighs heavily on local residents.”

Dude, playing fetch is so lame
By all accounts Dick Van Patten’s Natural Balance Pet Foods float was one of the hits of Pasadena’s Tournament of Roses Parade on New Year’s Day. Much credit goes to Porter, a Jack Russell terrier, with a knack for skimboarding. Porter already has a measure of fame on YouTube as the mascot for Kayotics, a Vancouver-based skimboard company. His natural balance (get it?) earned an invitation to audition for the parade. “And he totally murdered it,” but in a good way, says proud owner Justin Pang, an Internet ad designer. Porter was among five skimboarding and five dock-jumping dogs on the water-filled 35-tonne Havin’ a Splash float, which won the Tournament Special Award.

Two new thumbs up
Famed Chicago film critic Roger Ebert has named Russian-born Ignatiy Vishnevetsky a 24-year-old online film critic, as co-host of Ebert Presents at the Movies. Vishnevetsky is teamed with Associated Press film reviewer Christy Lemire on the public television show, which debuts Jan. 21. Ebert hopes the twosome recreate the magic, and sparks, generated when he duelled with the late Gene Siskel. Ebert, who lost his speaking voice after a series of surgeries, will contribute a segment with a computer-generated voice.

In a galaxy far, far away
Ten-year-old Kathryn Aurora Gray is an international, and perhaps intergalactic, star after becoming the youngest person to discover a supernova. Kathryn and her father, Paul Gray of Birdton, N.B., were looking at night images of the sky downloaded to their computer from a telescope in Halifax when the amateur astronomers spotted a white spot near (well, in relative terms) the galaxy UGC 3378. It was subsequently confirmed as a supernova. “It’s just a blowing up of stars, so eventually it will fade away,” Kathryn told the Daily Gleaner. “I was very excited to find one.”

Fighting the good fight
Dennis Manuge, a former Canadian Forces corporal, served in Bosnia. But it was while working as a mechanic at CFB Petawawa that he received a debilitating back injury. Since then, the Nova Scotian’s fight for better disability benefits has made him a hero among fellow veterans. In late December, he won a legal battle when the Supreme Court of Canada gave the go-ahead for a class-action lawsuit against the federal government—potentially involving 6,500 veterans. They want the return of deductions from disability pensions they say are meant to compensate for pain and suffering. More than half the litigants have mental health problems. Many veterans are far worse off than him, he said. “You’re talking about broken-up families, bankruptcies, repossessions.”

That Pat, always blowing smoke
Outspoken televangelist Pat Robertson shocked his flock by coming out in favour of legalizing marijuana. Robertson, a former U.S. presidential candidate and founder of the Christian Coalition, told his 700 Club broadcast he backs prison outreach workers who want drug law reform. “We’re locking up people that have taken a couple puffs of marijuana and next thing you know they’ve got 10 years with mandatory sentences,” he said. “Criminalizing the possession of a few ounces of pot, that kinda thing . . . it’s costing us a fortune and it’s ruining young people.”

By day, James Ward works for a London DVD distribution company, but it’s in his off-hours that life really gets delightfully dull. Ward edits his I Like Boring Things blog and, when the spirit unmoves him, calls a meeting of the Stationary Club to talk with fellow members about pens, paper clips and such. Last month, he threatened to put all London in a coma by staging a sold-out conference called Boring 2010. One speaker held a milk tasting. Another recited all 415 colours in a paint catalogue. Ward itemized his ties by colour and cloth. (Polyester ties fell to 64 per cent of his collection in December, down from 73 per cent in June, you won’t be fascinated to know.) “It is quintessentially English to look at something dull as ditchwater and find it interesting,” spectator Hamish Thompson roused himself to say.

NewsmakersLead by example
Nashville Predators forward Jordin Tootoo took a brave step late last month by enrolling in the NHL’s substance abuse program. Tootoo is the first Inuk in the league, and a hero to many in Nunavut. His mother, Rose, says he will set another example by seeking help. “Everybody makes mistakes,” she told the CBC. “So if you think you have a problem, don’t be afraid. Go out and get help.” She said his problems with alcohol date to 2002, when his brother, Terence, also a talented player, committed suicide after an impaired driving charge. Tootoo will be hard to replace during his treatment, says team captain Shea Weber. “He’s a good guy, the guys around here like him and that’s why this is tough right now.”

Organic justice
Most lifers would give an arm and a leg to get out of prison. Gladys Scott gets off lightly; she’s just losing a kidney. Mississippi’s Republican Gov. Haley Barbour suspended the life sentences of Gladys, 36, and her sister Jamie Scott, 38, if Gladys donates a kidney to her ailing sis. They got double life sentences in 1994 for two counts of armed robbery that netted a total of $11. Civil rights advocates have long called the sentences excessive. If the condition of release seems odd, Dan Turner, the governor’s spokesman, says Gladys volunteered her organ. “She wanted to do it,” he told the AP. “That wasn’t something we introduced.”

NewsmakersDeathly hallows, indeed
Hogwarts school is full of danger, but real life is more threatening for Afshan Azad, the Muslim actress who played student Padma Patil in four of the movies. Her brother Ashraf has pleaded guilty to assaulting her after beating her for dating a Hindu man. Fearing for her life, the 22-year-old escaped out a window of the family’s Manchester home in May, telling police her brother and father, Abdul, threatened to kill her. She said she wouldn’t testify against them; to do so would put her in “genuine danger.” Judge Roger Thomas warned Ashraf he will likely face prison when he is sentenced Jan. 21.

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